Page images

ing the body of the miracle to the place where the wonder was to be wrought came last of all to pass Nancy where she sat at her door. She was that strong believer who in her utter trust, when she heard that cloth would be needed for the seamless raiment of his miracle, had offered to provide it; and now, neither in pride nor in shame, but in defiance of her unbelieving husband, she was bearing away from her house the bolt of linsey-woolsey, newly home from the weaver, which was to have been cut into the winter's clothing of her children. She had spun the threads herself, and dyed them, and they had become as if they were of her own flesh and blood. She carried the bolt wrapped about with her shawl, bearing it tenderly in her arms, as if it were indeed her flesh and blood, her babe, which she was going to lay upon an altar of sacrifice.


THE crowd at Hingston's mill grew with the arrival of the unbelievers as well as the believers in Dylks. They came from all sides, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups, and the groups came disputing as often as agreeing among themselves. When a group was altogether believing they exchanged defiances with a party of those religious outcasts, the Hounds, disturbers of camp-meetings and baptisms, and notorious mockers now of the Leatherwood god in his services at the Temple. But the invitation given to see the promised miracle had been to all; the Hounds had felt in it the tenor of a challenge, and they had accepted it defiantly. They jeered at the believers as these arrived, sometimes hailing them by name; they neighed and whinnied, and shouted, "Salvation!" and in the intervals of silence they burst out with the first lines of the believers' hymn.

Those were those who mocked: "I am God Almighty," "The Father and the Son are one, and I am both of 'em put together," and "O Dylks, save us!" "Don't leave us, Dylks!" "Make the devil jump, Joseph! Make him rattle his scales for us!" "Fetch on your miracle!"

The believing women turned away; some of the younger tittered hysterically at a droll profanation of their idol's name, and then one of the ruffians applauded. "That's right, sisters! We like to have you enjoy yourselves. Promised to let anybody in particular see you home tonight?" The girls tried to control themselves, and laughed the more, and the Hound called, "Say, girls, let's have a dance-a dance before the Lord."

Jane Gillespie had come with her father in the family pride which forbade them to reject each other publicly. The girl stood a little apart from her father, and near her hung, wistfully, fearfully, the young farmer whom the neighborhood gossip had assigned her for an acceptable, if not accepted, lover. She looked steadfastly away from Hughey Blake, with her head lifted and her cheeks coldly flushed under the flame of her vivid hair: she was taller than the other girls, and showed above the young man.

"Say, Hughey," one of the Hounds spoke across the space they had left between them and the decent unbelievers, "can't you gimme a light? Reach up!" He held out a cigar, in the joke of kindling it at the girl's hair.

Hughey Blake turned, and his helpless retort, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," redoubled the joy of the Hounds. The girl glanced quickly at him, with what meaning he could not have made out, and it might have been fear of her which kept him hesitating whether to cross over and fall upon his tormentor. He looked at her as if for a sign, but she made as if she had heard nothing; then while he still hesitated, a slender, sinewy young fellow came down the open ground, with a soft jolt in his gait like that of a rangy young horse. He wore high boots, with his trousers pushed carelessly into their tops, and, for a sign of week-day indifference to the occasion, a checked shirt of the sort called hickory; he struck up the brim of his platted straw hat in front with one hand, and with the other on his hip stood a figure of backwoods bravery such as has descended to the romance of later times

from the reality of the Indian-fighting pioneers.

"You fellows keep still!" he called out. "If you don't, I'll make you."

Retorts of varied sense and nonsense came from the Hounds, but without malice in their note. One voice answered:

"I'd like to see you try, Jim Redfield!" The other jolted closer toward the line of the Hounds, and leaned over.

"Did I hear somebody speak?" he asked. "I reckon not, Jim," the voice of his challenger returned. "Come to join the band?"

"I did n't come to worry helpless women," Redfield said.

"That's right, Jim. There's where we 're with you. D' you reckon Apostle Hingston 'll let us in to see the miracle if we 'll keep the believers straight while the Almighty is at it?"

"I can't say for Mr. Hingston," Redfield returned; "but if I was in his place, I'd want to keep my jug out of sight when you fellows were on duty."

Redfield passed the Gillespies as he lounged back to his place with a covert glance at the girl, who made no sign of seeing her champion.

The woman who was bringing the body of the miracle came round the corner of the mill, and showed herself in the open space with the bolt of cloth borne carefully in her arms.

"Why, it's a baby!" came from that merriest of the Hounds whom Redfield had turned from an enemy into a troublesome friend of the believers. "Reckon the women 'll have something to say to that if he tries to turn e'er a baby into seamless raiment." The fellow got the laugh he had tried for, and when Redfield looked toward him again he said: "All right, Jim. I'm keepin' 'em quiet the best I can. But the elect will make a noise sometimes."

The woman with her bundle passed through the open door of the house behind the mill. The public entrance was at the front, where by day the bags of grain were lifted by rope and tackle to the upper story, and the farmers who brought them climbed up by the inner stairways.

The believers had expected that they were to come in by way of the dwelling, but now the burly figure of the miller, with the light of a candle behind it, showed black in the doorway, and he spoke up in his friendly voice:


"Neighbors, we want you all to go round to the front of the mill and come in there. The miracle is going to be done on the bolting-cloth floor, where there will be room for all that wants to see. don't mean to keep anybody out, whether they believe or don't believe. The only thing we want is for you all to be quiet, and not make trouble. And now come in as quick as you can, so you can be sure we have n't had time to do anything to the cloth that the seamless raiment is going to be made out of.”

"Hounds and everybody?" called that gayest voice among the outcasts.

"Hounds and everybody," the miller humorously assented, and his black bulk melted into the dark as the candle disappeared within.

The dim light from tin lanterns threw the pattern of their perforations on the walls and roofs of the interior, and showed the tracery of the floury cobwebs. The people could scarcely see their way to the stairs by the glimmer, and there was more talking, with nervous laughter, than there had been outside. One of the Hounds called out, "I don't want any of you girls to kiss me!" and gave the relief of indignation to the hysterical emotion of the believers; the more serious of the unbelievers found escape in their helpless laughter from their tense expectation of triumph in the failure of the promised miracle.

The wide space on the bolting-cloth floor, before the bins, mounded high with new wheat, and the rows of millstones, motionless under their empty hoppers, was lighted by candles in tin sconces, but these were so few that they shone only on the foremost faces and left those behind a gleam of eyes or teeth. The familiar machinery had put on a gruesome strangeness, which had its final touch from the roll lying on the table like something dead.

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]

A table had been set in front of the barrels under the bolting-cloths, and the muslin funnels, empty of flour, hung down into the barrels with the effect of colossal legs standing in them. The air of the hot night was close within; a damp odor from the water flowing under the motionless mill-wheels seemed to cool it, but did not; the perspiration shone on the faces where the light fell on them.

The miller and his family had places in the front line of the spectators, and with them was the woman who had given the cloth for the miracle, and who stood staring at the stuff, which she had known so intimately in every thread and fiber, with an air of estrangement.

When the stumbling feet of the last arrivals ceased on the stairs, the miller stood out, facing the crowd, and told them that he expected the Good Old Man now any minute, together with the Apostle Paul, whom they all knew by his earthly name as their neighbor Mr. Enraghty. He asked them to be as still as they could, and especially after the Good Old Man came to be perfectly silent; not to whisper, and not to move if they could help it. There was nothing, though, he said, to hinder the believers from joining in their favorite hymn, and at once the wailing of it began to fill the place. When it ended, the deep-drawn breath of some wearied expectant made itself heard with the shifting of tired feet easing themselves. The minutes grew into an hour, with no sign of Dylks or Enraghty, and the miller was again forced to ask the patience of his neighbors. But there began to be murmurs from the unbelievers and more articulate protests from the Hounds. Some children, whom the believers had brought with them to see the divine power manifest itself, whimpered, and were suffered to lie down at the feet of their fathers and mothers and forget their disappointment in sleep. A babe, too young to be left at home, woke and cried, and was suckled to rest again, with ironical applause from the Hounds.

At the end of two hours of waiting, relieved with pleas and promises from the

miller, there was no word from Dylks and no token of his bodily presence. With the scoffing of the unbelievers, the prayers of the faithful rose. "Come soon, O Lord!” "Send thy power!" "Remember thy Little Flock!" Upon these at last broke falteringly, stragglingly, a familiar voice, the voice of Abel Reverdy, kindly and uncouth as himself, and expressive, like his presence, of an impartial interest in the feelings of both the faithful and the unfaithful. He was there in the company of his wife, who held a steadfast place among the believers, while Abel ranged freely from one party to the other, and could not well have known himself of either, though friendly with both. He was of a sort of disapproving friendship even with the Hounds, and now his voice said in impartial suggestion:

"Why not somebody go and fetch him?”

"Good for you, Abel!" came from the Hound who was oftenest spokesman for the others. "Why don't you go yourself, Abel?"

Other voices applauded, and Abel was beginning to share a general confidence in his fitness for the mission when his wife spoke up:

"'Deed and 'deed, I can tell you he ain't a-goun' to do no such a thing, not if we stay here all night, murricle or no murricle. I ain't a-goun' to have him put his head into the Lion of Judah's mouth, and have it bit off, like as not. I can't tell from one minute to another whether he's a believer or not, and if anybody is to go for the Good Old Man, it's got to be a studdy believer, and not a turncoat of many colors like Abel."

If Sally had satisfied her need of chastising her husband for his variableness, and found a comfort in her scriptural language not qualified by its wandering application, Abel loyally accepted her open criticism.

"That 's so, Sally; I ain't the one to send. I misdoubted it myself, or I 'd 'a' gone without sayin' nothun' in the first place. But, as Sally says," he addressed the crowd, "it ought to be a believer."

"Then why not Sally?" a scorner sug

gested. She did not refuse, and there was a whispering between her and those next her in debate of the question. But it was closed by the loud, austere voice of one of the believing matrons in the apostolic mandate, "Let your women keep silence in the churches." The text was not closely apt; it was not a precept obeyed in the revivals of any of the sects in Leatherwood; it was especially ignored in the meetings of the Dylks believers: but its proclamation now satisfied the yearning always rife in them to affiliate their dispensation with the scriptural tradition.

"Well, that settles it, Sister Coombs," Sally promptly assented; "I was n't a-goun' to, anyway, and I ain't a-goun' to now, if I stay here all night, or the Good Old Man don't ever come."

"Why not Jim Redfield?" a Hound demanded, and the miller tried to be stern in calling out, "No trifling!" but lost effect by gently adding, "friends." The unbelievers laughed, but the miller's retreat from the bold stand he had taken was covered by Redfield's threat that if those fellows kept on he would give them something to laugh about.

As he stepped into the neutral space between the friends and enemies of Dylks, he had a sort of double fearfulness for the women, because he was not only not of their faith, but because he was of no religious set in a community where every one but an open infidel like Matthew Braile was of some profession. He came to the Baptist services with his mother, but he had not been baptized, and he was not seen at the house-to-house prayer-meetings, where the young people came with the old, or at the frolics, where dancing was forbidden, but not kissing in their games or in their walks home through the woods. He was not supposed to be in love with any one, and he lived alone on a rich bottom-land farm with his mother, in a house which his father had built where his grandfather's log cabin had stood. He was of a tradition which held him closer to the wilderness than most of the people of Leatherwood; in the two generations before him the Red

fields had won and held their lands against the Indians, and had fought them in the duels from tree to tree which the pioneers taught the savages, or learned from them, risking their lives and scalps in the same chances. He was of the sort of standing which old family gives even where all families are new, and he was now making his way politically in spite of his irreligion; he meant to go to the legislature, eventually, and in a leisurely sort he was reading law, and reciting his Blackstone to Matthew Braile. As he came and went from the old infidel's house he was apt to stop at the tavern porch, where the few citizens who could detach their minds from the things of another world gave them in cloudy conjecture to the political affairs of this, or to scrutiny of the real motives actuating the occasional travelers who apparently arrived for a meal's victuals or a night's lodging. With these Redfield had scarcely a social tie, but he could talk with them almost to the point of haranguing them, for they were men; at the store, where his mother's errands sometimes took him, he shrank from the women as timid as they when they dismounted from their saddles or wagons, and slipped in with their butter and eggs, and passed out again deeply obscured in their sunbonnets.

They were mostly women past the time of life when men look at them curiously, but once Redfield was startled by meeting a young girl as he was trying to go out, and began losing himself with her in that hopeless encounter of people who try to give way to each other and keep passing to the same side at once. Her face and her red hair burned one fire, but at last she stopped stone-still and let him go by, with a sort of angry challenge in her blue eyes. He knew that it was Jane Gillespie without knowing her to speak with, as he would have said, and he knew that against her father's will she was one of the followers of Dylks. The idolatry was not yet open and scandalous, but since then he had heard his mother denouncing her as a worthless hussy with the other women who had worshiped Dylks in that frenzy

« PreviousContinue »